Producer Burt Metcalfe wanted to put a little sensitivity into M*A*S*H

For a show that was about war, M*A*S*H always managed to promote peace.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

For a show that dealt with war, death and degradation, M*A*S*H always managed to promote life. Executive producer, Burt Metcalfe, put a little sensitivity into M*A*S*H and made sure that peace was in front of potency.

Metcalfe had been putting his personal touch on the series since he took charge in 1977, after former M*A*S*H producers Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds left for other projects.

"I'm an unabashed sentimentalist, so my shows tend to be more poignant, with a special kind of compassion and humanity," Metcalfe said in a 1983 interview with The Charlotte News.

At the time, M*A*S*H had been described as an anti-war series by both critics and TV viewers alike. According to Metcalfe, the truth was much deeper than that.

"We're not really an anti-military show," Jamie Farr, who played the role of Cpl. Klinger, said. "We're anti-stupidity, anti-authority, particularly when it's senseless. The doctors are placed in a situation where they're in opposition to everything going on around them. They're there to save lives."

You might remember Maxwell Q. Klinger for wearing a variety of beautiful hats, dresses and other interesting outfits to try and earn a psychiatric discharge.

According to the interview, there was no one at CBS who wanted this war to end. As they approached their final season in 1983, M*A*S*H was still the third highest-rated series in the country. It also had developed a dedicated fan base who would do just about anything for Alda.

Even the network couldn't stop Alan Alda from moving on to other projects, or convince Metcalfe there were enough significant stories left to maintain the show's high quality.

According to Metcalfe, there were many great stories the series had to pass up because it didn't fit the tone of the show. He said he nixed other story ideas because they were pitched in the wrong era. Could you imagine M*A*S*H in the decade of Archie Bunker and Golden Girls instead?

"We were pitched shows about abortion, drugs and breast cancer 100 times," Metcalfe said. "But those are 1980s causes of the week."

Metcalfe said his mission was to inject as much sentimentalism in M*A*S*H as possible. His love for the cast and crew could be seen by the way in which the characters grew within the show. 

During his time as the lead producer, Maj. Margaret Houlihan loosened up and became more human, the "pompous" Frank Burns left the show and Klinger got out of drag and became a company clerk. Metcalfe's influence was everywhere.

"I'm an admirer of Frank Capra, who did stories that had warmth and poignancy," Metcalfe said. "I hope to do sentimental stories that express a certain optimism about America, where we can say 'Gee, we aren't so bad afterall.'"

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11 Comments

sagafrat69 6 months ago
Adam, Ken Levine and David Issacs (who went on to write many episodes for "Cheers" ) were head writers in season 7. Very talented duo. In my opinion nothing got better in season 10 because the show had the same writers from season 8 and 9. You can see the actors struggling to make the show "funny" and it just didn't work out. I don't see to many episodes in the last few seasons worth remembering.
Adamtwelvia sagafrat69 5 months ago
That's because Alan Alda pretty much took over the whole show by that point and wrote or directed every other ep. It pretty much became a shell of it's former self, I can't even watch most of season 9 and 10, with the exception of a few.
sagafrat69 6 months ago
Burt Metcalfe was a trooper. He was there from the beginning and stayed to the very end of the series. Yet the train started to come off the track so to speak in season 6. It became evident that Metcslfe was not Reynolds or Gelbart in terms of talent. I think he forgot the show was supposed to be a COMEDY.. Many of the stories in the latter part of show didn't make sense or had no real humor. Metcalfe had to take responsibility for that because he was EP. Hot Lips dad comes to visit? Thought she said he DIED in an earlier episode. Charles loses money on the '51 pennant race with Dodgers /Giants? He didn't get to camp until late'52 after Burns exit. Potter rings in 1951? He also didn't get to camp until Sept '52. All under Metcalfe's watch.
Adamtwelvia sagafrat69 6 months ago
"Yet the train started to come off the track so to speak in season 6."
For me it was midway through season 8 and all of 9. It started to get better by season 10.
GioLovesMash 6 months ago
look lovemetv22 my fav show is on fox in 2024
https://www.tvinsider.com/1113789/mash-the-comedy-that-changed-television-special-new-cast-interviews-fox/
LoveMETV22 GioLovesMash 6 months ago
Good for you.
LoveMETV22 GioLovesMash 6 months ago
Guessing, as you use Michelle Tanner as your avatar:



That you maybe watching the few episodes of Full House that MeTV has on their schedule for December 10th.
GioLovesMash LoveMETV22 6 months ago
no as a joke lol
GioLovesMash LoveMETV22 6 months ago
maybe comes back for 2024 rangt
harlow1313 6 months ago
>""I'm an unabashed sentimentalist, so my shows tend to be more poignant,..."< To me, an ordinary viewer, it is evident how much more heavy-handed the show became.

>"Metcalfe had been putting his personal touch on the series since he took charge in 1977,..."< That's about the time the show began to sink.

Examples of episodes I strongly dislike: 1) The relatives of the Big Eight meet for dinner, back in the states 2) Margaret stands in to dance for Peg at B.J.'s anniversary 3) The Father runs a long distance race. 4) I believe there were at least two field tracheotomies. etc., etc.
Adamtwelvia harlow1313 6 months ago
1) The relatives of the Big Eight meet for dinner, back in the states
But I LIKED that one! :(
4) I believe there were at least two field tracheotomies. etc., etc.
Father Mulcahy's was good! That still had Henry.
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